At 4 o’clock on the afternoon of 9 March 1921 Northcote’s High Street was shattered by the sound of three gunshots fired inside a pawnshop. The shop belonged to well-respected 44 year-old watchmaker and pawnbroker Jacob Borkheim who minutes later, staggered out onto the street crying out to his surprised neighbours that he had been shot in the back. Blood poured from his mouth as he fell to the ground dying of bullet wounds.
Sometime prior to this startling event, Borkehim had advised his wife Minnie to go upstairs to their apartment for a rest while he kept an eye on the shop. All was quiet and Borkheim had just opened the shop safe to check on the jewellery worth 350 pounds contained in it, when three men entered the shop at number 310 High Street and carefully closed the door behind them. The assumption of what happened next is based on circumstantial evidence. Borkheim was held up by the men and in trying to escape was shot in the back. After the pawnbroker collapsed on the pavement of the busy street, the men ran from the scene towards Northcote Railway Station. A passer-by called for a policeman and Bernard Brady was caught by Senior-Constable Gordon as he waited for a train. Two other suspects were apprehended before the night was out.
The three men accused of the murder were bricklayer Bernard Patrick Brady (29), Frank William Wright (30), a timber worker from Keel Street, Collingwood, and labourer John Henry Lawson (22). Brady was positively identified by a cyclist who has seen him leaving the shop. He was caught at Northcote Station where he was found to be in possession of a revolver with all but one of its chambers loaded. Examination of the shop uncovered two of the three bullets fired embedded in the wall. Brady immediately turned on his cohorts making a statement implicating them in the murder but this became the most damning evidence against him in the triple trial.
The court case held on Thursday 21 April began exhaustingly as the three accused challenged each prospective juror. Lawson was the first to use his full ‘peremptory right of challenge’ by the time that seven out of the twelve jurors made it to the box. Brady and Wright were equally eager to express their objection and in total it took an hour and 57 citizens to make the required 12 members of the jury. The sensational murder and trial was reported in all newspapers across the country and high profile pathologist Dr Crawford Henry Mollison appeared as an expert witness.
The jury finally reached a verdict on Saturday 23 April. All three were acquitted of murder and the youngest man Lawson was set free. Brady and Wright however were found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter but sentenced to the maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment. In Wright’s case a prior suspended sentence of two years for receiving stolen goods was added to his total. As he left the court Lawson exclaimed “Your Honor and gentlemen of the jury I thank you.” He passed the dock where Wright shook his hand warmly. Sentencing was carried out four days later. Chief Justice Sir William Irvine made the statement that “in this particular crime the two offences of murder and manslaughter might be divided by an almost invisible line. The accused very deliberately and in concert arrived to hold up and rob the unfortunate Borkheim.”
The industrious watchmaker had been in business in Northcote since his marriage to Minnie Levy in 1906. Until the passing of their old father sometime around WWI, the couple lived at the High Street shop with Isidore, a retired tobacconist. Shortly after the murder Minnie and her two children moved away to Elsternwick.
BULLETS FOR THE PAWNBROKER. (1951, 9 march). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic : 1848 - 1956), p.3.
15 YEARS FOR MANSLAUGHTER: BRADY AND WRIGHT SENTENCED (1921, 27 April). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, N.S.W. 1888-1954), p. 4.
MAXIMUM PENALTY: FIFTEEN YEARS FOR MANSLAUGHTER. (1921, 28 April). The Advertiser (Adelaide, S.A.: 1889 - 1931), p. 7.
NORTHCOTE CASE. (1921, 21 April). The West Australian (Perth, W.A.: 1879 - 1954), p. 7.
NORTHCOTE TRAGEDY: EVISDENCE BY ACCUSED. (1921, 23 April). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1956), p. 21
THREE ARRESTS MADE. (1921, 10 March) Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, N.S.W. : 1888 - 1954), p. 1.